Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Love Wins chapter 3

Chapter 3 is simply titled, "hell."  This chapter is certainly the most theologically "meaty" so far.  Though I am regularly annoyed by Bell's neglecting of verse references (he only lists chapter numbers), I was surprised at some of the depth for which Bell was willing to go in his analysis of hell.  While Love Wins is far from a scholarly work, Bell at least provides some knowledge of concordance use.

Since the doctrine of hell is a difficult and complex subject of debate, it is not my intention to delve into any major disputes with Bell's views on whether punishment is conditional or unending.  However, I will say that Bell's analysis is naive at best.  And its not so much what Bell says is incorrect, but what he doesn't say.

While Bell isn't incorrect in how he defines the relevant biblical words (i.e. hell, sheol, etc.), I think he misses some important points in various contexts.  Luke 16 is one of these places.  While he says a few interesting things about this passage, his primary point is flawed:
"In their previous life, the rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now, in hell, the rich man still sees himself as above Lazarus.  It's no wonder Abraham says there's a chasm that can't be crossed.  The chasm is the rich man's heart!  It hasn't changed, even in death and torment and agony." (p. 75)
While its quite true that the ethical aspects of this parable are there in how we should treat our neighbors; it is not the case that this is the chasm that Bell seems to imply.  Moreover, the parable goes against one of Bell's key points in this book; that there are second chances after death.  How Bell misses this aspect of the parable is beyond me.  But it is quite clear that the parable emphasizes one important thing: the rich man's request for mercy is refused.  Therefore, it is of eternal importance that we embrace the gospel and love our neighbors right now, or else it might be too late.
"Jesus did not use hell to try to compel 'heathens' and 'pagans' to believe in God, so they wouldn't burn when they die." (p. 82) 
Bell couldn't be more wrong in this admission because Jesus did this very thing in Luke 12:4-8,
“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.“But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God.“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God;”
Notice that Jesus, after providing the warnings of hell, compels His audience to confess Him before men.  While Bell does admit that Jesus provided stern warnings of judgment, it is not the case that the judgments are not a means by which Jesus compelled his audience to repent.

One thing seems to be clear thus far; Bell holds to some form of conditional punishment.  However, he not only seems to set himself against the traditional view of hell, but against the annihilationist who believes that the judgment of the wicked is final.


Mark Hunter said...

"One thing seems to be clear thus far; Bell holds to some form of conditional punishment.  However, he not only seems to set himself against the traditional view of hell, but against the annihilationist who believes that the judgment of the wicked is final."

"traditional" and "annihilationist" two words that make my skin crawl.

Since when is truth wrapped up in tradition? Didn't Jesus expose tradition as being the ideas, the theology, of men? Quite how something being "traditional" implies inherent truth puzzles me.

Like the JWs, I see many reformed, evangelical Christians picking and choosing what to believe as long as it tallies with their traditions because it is within their traditions that they find the comfort of truth.

And annihilationist...did the Father not bankrupt heaven to save a world that was dying in it's sin so as to not annihilate every man, woman and child?

But then we have the theologians who create a god in their own image whose mercy and grace, and love, are in as short supply as their own.

Look at the mercy dolled out by the father of the reformed movement, Calvin. Is it any surprise that his god is an annihilationist, with all of the biblical proof texts that back up his "truth"?

The more I know God, the more I realise he's way, way bigger than our ideas, theologies and philosophies. And it doesn't matter how long we've believed something. God will be found true, not our ideas about him.

Mike Felker said...


I can understand your distaste for theological lingo. But sometimes its difficult to find what words or phrases can be used to best describe a position.

My point was not to necessarily defend the "traditional" or "annihilationist" view, but to simply describe Bell's position in contrast to both. Please don't misunderstand my use of terms in merely describing the position of others in contrast to my adoption of them.

The concern I have is this: is Bell correct in his theological implications that there can be second chances after death? If I didn't make this question clear enough in my presentation, then that's my fault.

If sinners do not accept Christ in this life, is there any reason to believe that they will accept Him in the next?

Mark Hunter said...

"If sinners do not accept Christ in this life, is there any reason to believe that they will accept Him in the next?"

And that, in a nutshell, and with all theological mumbo jumbo shoved aside, is a great question, and no doubt inspired Bell to write the book.

Mark Driscoll said there's no "post mortem" evidence that anyone can accept Christ after death (hence post mortem).

But there's no post mortem evidence of anything....it's all about faith.

The Apologetic Front said...

Well, maybe a better question to ask is this: is God's judgment and wrath on sinners final? Didn't the parable in Luke 16 answer this question when he was refused his request for mercy? And if sinners are truly destroyed (Matthew 10:28), then how could this be anything other than final?

Mark Hunter said...

Then what did Jesus mean when he "it is finished" and "Father, forgive them"?

Did the Father refill his bucket of wrath after he'd poured it out on Christ?

The Apologetic Front said...


That's a great question. Like the old covenant atonements, the atonement of Christ is only applied to those who "draw near" as Hebrews 7:25 explicitly affirms.

If God's wrath is fulfilled for all persons for all times in the person of Christ (which is completely possible), then there would be no need for Christ to say things like, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides in him." (John 3:36)

Mark Hunter said...

And then you need to look at the original words rendered "eternal", which is what Bell does in the book.

Remember, just because a belief is traditional doesn't necessarily make it true. And, as you know, I'm talking from experience.

Couldn't it be, though, that maybe, just maybe, God's love, grace and mercy are much, much bigger than we can ever imagine? Even bigger than our theologies and doctrines, and "statements of faith"?

The Apologetic Front said...


Yes, you are absolutely correct that whether something is "traditional, creedal, statement of faith, etc." does not make it true. All things must be tested in light of Scripture.

In answer to your second question, I completely agree with that. If God rescued even one sinner and left all others to His wrath, it would still be completely and utterly amazing why He would do such a thing.

Some see "Jacob I loved and Esau I hated" (Romans 9:13) and wonder how God could hate Esau. But I think the confusion should be in why God loved Jacob or anyone else for that matter when no one deserves it.

Mark Hunter said...


But then, he did make us in our image, so...

A Boy and his God said...

I had similar feelings during my reading of chapter 3.

EnnisP said...

Hey Mike,

You mentioned that Rob missed the point about the Rich Man's cry for mercy being refused but I read that a little differently.

I understood his request was refused because he lacked repentance and Rob made a point of describing his unchanged, unrepentant attitude. Not only did the Rich man fail to confess his sins but he continued to see Lazarus as his servant.

Also, refusing a drink of water under those conditions could be viewed as an act of mercy. Relieving his pain could reinforce his delusion. Making him suffer the consequences of the sinful life he lived on earth would have the desired effect of bringing him to his knees even in hell.

I mentioned this in my review of chapter 3